26 August 2011

Three short operas in the Tete a Tete Opera Festival

The Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2011 had a lot going for it.

It had operas in it, they were on the quirky side of interesting and it was held at the Riverside Theatre in nearby Hammersmith. So I went.

The downside was that there were a lot of shows that I wanted to go to and most of them only had one or two performances. The Riverside is close, but not that close, and I have other calls on my time, like work, so in the end I only managed to get there for one Sunday afternoon but I did manage to see two shows in that time.

First up was the Glyndebourne Youth Opera with a double bill of On Off and When I Am Old.

On Off was a light-hearted look at the impact of the lights going out and the impact this has on a society reliant on electricity to power fridges, microwaves, phone networks, hair-dryers, hoovers and PCs etc.

We follow a group of around twenty people as they try to cope with their new situation.

It's a very busy opera, the story moves on quickly with one episode following quickly after another, there is lots of singing and the whole stage is a frenzy of activity as the cast keep on the move.

Some of this is almost intimidating to anybody sitting in the front row, as I was, as they sang directly to the audience several times. The flip-side of intimidation is the involvement that you felt.

There are some catchy tunes a long the way and a pleasant half and hour is soon over.

In stark contrast When I Am Old is framed by a video showing the human impact of a brutal invasion of Gazza by Israel. This is uncompromising stuff and is very pro-Palestine, which is fine with me but I can see some people objecting to that.

When I Am Old is less urgent, as befits the subject matter, and also uses the full cast to good effect.

I found it less convincing as a story, if it was even meant to be a story, and while it had a few reasonable moments it never quite lived up to the promise of the video that was far more memorable and moving than the opera.

The Sleeper by Welsh National Youth Opera was something else again.

It is set in a future where people can no longer sleep and they suffer the obvious problems because of this. One person can sleep, The Sleeper, and they are on the run from the police and other people. A small group travellers with The Sleeper and tries to protect him/her (the identity of The Sleeper is part of the plot).

The apocalyptic scenario and the pursuit make this a very tense drama that is emphasised by the music, the singing and the acting. This is real drama.

The opera suffers from being an extract from a greater whole and while the addition of a narrator helps to fill in some of the gaps the story is still incomplete and a little incomprehensible. But that's opera for you.

And, actually, none of that really matters as the tension is gripping and the performance spell-binding. The Welsh prove that they can sing and that they can act too. It was powerful stuff and a real treat.

With operas as good as these I will be paying more attention to the Tête à Tête Opera Festival next year, and I won't let work get in the way next time.

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